Homage to Balanchine/MariinskyBallet, Royal Opera House, London

The Mariinsky's performance of Balanchine's architectural masterpiece reduces a venerable work to a pile of rubble

There are several ways of looking at the Mariinsky Ballet's Homage to Balanchine, none of them entirely flattering. First it could be considered as a demolition job – not one executed with a wrecking ball, but a Fred Dibnah-style deconstruction that, almost lovingly, reduces something grand and venerable to so much rubble by compromising a few key bricks.

The evening opener, Serenade, to Tchaikovsky, is one of Balanchine's most architectural ballets, from the first moments when the ranked corps' outstretched, forbidding hands soften and louvre into graceful shades. Watching it is like becoming a camera, roving freely round some newly minted Parthenon. It can be analysed almost entirely in terms of flesh-and-blood metopes, pediments and friezes, the shifting scenes as much a play of light and fresh perspective as an act of choreography.

Balanchine puts in builders' jokes so elegant they seem an inevitable part of the structure, like the two sets of dancers who, by standing more upright the closer they are to each other, make a pair of flying buttresses that eventually scatter in confusion for lack of anything except each other to abut. He even decorates his ballet with the loveliest gargoyles ever made – a man, slowly advancing, with a woman pressed tightly to his back and covering his eyes with an outstretched hand.

When Serenade is well danced, this vision alone gives it an air of the metaphysical, a statement in abstract shapes about death and redemption. Even when the Mariinsky danced it, the image was beautiful. But it was no longer part of a great design, and this was what ruined a large part of the evening. The Mariinsky didn't show us around Serenade like artists, emphasising the whole, but like estate agents, pointing out a bunch of attractive features.

The torpor left by an unconvincing Serenade was so strong that we were nearly halfway through a carnivalesque second ballet before the audience remembered that it was allowed to have fun, even though Vladimir Shklyarov was clowning so hard in his efforts to remind us that he almost went over on his backside. In Rubies, pianist Ludmila Sveshnikova teased the dancers on as they laid bare the low-brow in Stravinsky's jazz-era Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra. Suddenly the girls were all Mack Sennett bathing beauties, and the boys all musclemen, or barkers, or urchins sneaking into the show under a loose piece of canvas.

Irina Golub will probably never be a huge star, because her limbs are in something like normal human proportions, but for years she has been the Mariinsky's sharpest ingenue-style ballerina. Here she made herself a one-woman fairground, whether tormenting her admirers as if she were the sparkliest, most unattainable sideshow prize, or swinging her foot high into the air like the mallet at a test-your-strength machine.

It was Rubies – tart and witty but looking somewhat displaced – that suggested another way of interpreting this Homage to Balanchine. It is normally performed as the middle section of a three-act ballet called Jewels. The first part, Emeralds, is a comparatively static dance to extracts from Fauré's Pelléas and Mélisande, where the women wear calf-length skirts (much like Serenade) and the shapes of the dance are more important than the dynamics (much like Serenade). The third part, Diamonds, is an elegant tribute to the classical tradition, with dancers dressed mostly in white, and set to a lightweight symphony.

Similarly, Homage to Balanchine finishes with Symphony in C, an elegant classically inspired dance dressed largely in white, to music by Bizet. Which raises the awful thought that the ballet company's new acting director, Yuri Fateyev, stitched it together on the theatre roof one lightning-filled night, cackling maniacally and picturing himself as the new Prometheus. But if this is a kind of "Frankenstein's Jewels", it is every bit as lopsided, pendulous and unlikely to produce offspring as that phrase suggests.

Symphony in C at least finishes the evening in style. Viktoria Tereshkina, Uliana Lopatkina, Elena Evseeva and Evgenia Obraztsova are by turns as regal, playful and tireless as the mercurial score demands. The Mariinsky's failings would be less frustrating if it weren't capable of near-perfection like this, or like the opening Swan Lake of the season.

Uliana Lopatkina is, almost literally, a dream of an Odette, her limbs seeming to move in some thicker, more supportive medium than air. So the occasional human impulse after some supernatural piece of floating, when she falls into the reassuring arms of Daniil Korsuntsev's Siegfried, for example, is like the tearing of a veil. But even beyond the reach of Lopatkina's spell this was a superb Swan Lake, with the most peripheral figures wholeheartedly living the drama, and believing the magic.



Jenny Gilbert is away

Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
'Africa' will be Angelina Jolie's fifth film as a director

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Arts and Entertainment
Bryan Cranston will play federal agent Robert Mazur in The Infiltrator

Books
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

    Immigration: Obama's final frontier

    The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

    Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

    You know that headache you’ve got?

    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

    Paul Scholes column

    England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

    Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
    Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

    Frank Warren column

    Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines